Why You Should Use the “F-Word” with Your Team

by | Nov 9, 2016 | approachable leadership

You should use the F-word with your team a LOT more than you do.

Do you use the F-word with your team? I sure do. The F-word gets people’s attention. When you drop an F-bomb your teammates will sit up and listen to what you have to say. It’s a signal that lets them know you mean business.

A lot of people are surprised that I recommend using the F-word. They don’t think it’s approachable. But I think dealing with frustration is one of the most important things a leader can do for her team.

(Wait, did you think I was talking about another word that starts with F? That’s totally unapproachable! Get your mind out of the gutter!)

Your team should start using the F-word too.

Getting your team to talk about what’s frustrating them is a critical leader behavior. Before you can do anything to help someone dealing with frustration they must open up about it. And believe it or not, most people don’t want to talk about their frustrations.

People often feel like talking about their frustrations, especially with their boss, will just come off as complaining. They believe if they are seen as a complainer that it will hurt them at work. Plus they see a lot of their coworkers dealing with frustration too, and they don’t want to seem weak or whiny.

It is up to you to get people to start using the F-word with you. Get them to open up and talk about their day-to-day frustrations and the everyday friction in their job. Not as a gripe session. But as a way to start thinking about solution-focused ways to make their work day smoother.

Dealing with frustration? Try the PITA Principle

Do you know the PITA principle? It stands for the Pain in the… you know what… Principle. (I’m doing my best to avoid actual swearing in this article 🙂 )

Your job as a leader is to seek out the PITA your team faces. Then – like a frustration-seeking missile – you destroy that friction from their daily work. You know, things like:

  • That coworker who thinks his mom works here (or that lunchroom trash just magically throws itself away);
  • The equipment that constantly breaks down from lack of (10-minute) preventive maintenance; or
  • The TPS report that is an “urgent priority” (Can you get that to me? That’d be great) that nobody ever looks at and derails you from critical tasks.

If you get good at applying the PITA Principle your team will do anything for you.

Work can be frustrating.

From equipment that doesn’t work right, to policies (and people) that don’t make sense, to miscommunication, to missed deadlines, the list goes on. Every single company faces these frustrations every single day.

But as leaders we cannot just accept that work is frustrating. As leaders, we must RAIL against this frustration. We must never accept frustration as the norm in our environment. Frustration breeds resentment. It breeds disinterest, disengagement, turnover, and health issues. It destroys collaboration, quality, organizational citizenship and so much more.

Maybe you’ve started your own list of frustration as you’ve been reading this. A list of the things your employees complain about (when they feel comfortable talking to you about it). Is there anything on that list that the right kind of leader couldn’t make better?

How using the F-word can help your team.

Here are the steps any leader can take to begin dealing with frustration on their team:

  1. Accept that your job is to reduce friction. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the numbers and the client relationships and the deadlines and overlook the frustrations of my team. Sometimes it seems like those hard factors are the most important aspects of my job. But what I’ve come to realize is that when I take care of my team, everything else takes care of itself. And when I take my eye off the ball is when the wheels start to come off.
  2. Ask your team about any frustration they’re dealing with. You aren’t going to fix something you don’t even know is an issue. Therefore you begin by making frustration and friction an acceptable topic. Make clear you don’t consider this whining or complaining. Your job is to clear away anything getting in the way of your team and you can’t do that without talking about it. But remember, if you haven’t been the kind of leader who regularly checks up on your team, they may be hesitant to share with you. Start by building a relationship. Show concern. This builds trust.
  3. Action, not words. There is nothing more frustrating (or belittling) than feeling like you made a breakthrough with your boss, only to realize through their lack of action or effort, that they just going through the motions. If you’re going to start the discussion you better plan on following up and following through. Otherwise you are just one more giant PITA on the list of frustrations. You’ll be doing more harm than good.

And last but not least…

Don’t be afraid to drop the “F bomb” on your team.

For example:

“You seem frustrated. Is there anything I can do to help?”

This question is a game-changer. Not only does it show that you’re paying attention to them, it affirms their feelings. While your employee is dealing with frustration they will question if it’s even okay for them to be frustrated. Your affirmation that “yes, we’ve put you in a bind.” Or, “no, you shouldn’t have to deal with that,” might be all they need in that moment.

Go ahead, use the F-word. Your team will be glad you did.

How often do you get frustrated at work? And how much better would your job be if you could eliminate some of those frustrations? Have you ever had a leader acknowledge your feelings of frustration? How did that make you feel? Let us know in the comments.

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